Jim Frater is the man who started it all – the founding Frater of bb7. His legacy is his leadership; his vision is our heritage.
Q: Why did you start bb7?
After leading a successful turnaround for a competitor in Madison, I decided to continue in the product development consultancy realm by opening a Madison office for BIT 7, a Chicago-based company that specialized in electronics and software development. I eventually merged with Bjorksten Labs and the rest is history.
The product development industry and marketplace is amazing – it’s full of innovative people who appreciate a unique organization structure that fosters respect and collaboration.
Q: Brief history on your background/career?
I am a leader, speaker, team builder, partner, businessman, entrepreneur, engineer, patent-holder, innovator and listener.
My formal education is in engineering and business. Past positions include roles in graduate teaching, engineering, production, marketing, sales, patent support, and management. I have worked in a variety of industries like plastic molding, material management, retail, medical, food, and industrial packaging. I earned my license as a Professional Engineer (PE) and have held a professional registration for materials management. I served two terms as President of The Retail Packaging Institute.
Q: What has surprised you about bb7’s evolution?
Finding success is simple. Success is as easy as finding good clients and then providing them with quality work that exceeds their expectations.
If you prioritize client relationships, you will achieve profitability. If you prioritize profitability, you may not achieve successful client relationships. Choose client satisfaction as your definition of success.
Q: When you were President of bb7, what pivotal moves did you make that had the most positive impact?
I put together a knowledgeable and experienced team.
The most important thing about product development is understanding that product success is reliant upon performing a variety of activities well. With only a few exceptions, products only succeed when a team is able to accomplish a customized beginning-to-end process.
A team needs to not only execute phases of work but be able to transition between phases. The hand-offs (of work, documents, etc) between groups of people are risky; the communication between the hand-offs must not only be good – it needs to be excellent. Continually-developing an experienced and talented team was (and is) crucial to a consultancy’s success. bb7’s team helps to bridge the hand-offs, encourages communication, and understands the full requirements/activities that make new product development work.
Q: Fast forward 50 years into bb7’s future. What attributes do you hope the company retains?
Respect, leadership and openness.
Q: What’s one thing you can’t work without?
Other good people.
I said “one!”
Fine. One group of good people.
Q: You’ve seen a lot of business trends come and go. What trend was “the worst”?
Providers who believed and professed that the service they provided was THE most valuable part of any product development effort.
Q: Owning a business must be stressful. How did you manage the stress?
Seriously, if you don’t want stress, don’t become part of business management.
However, I found that when you stop thinking that you are the only one who can do something or make some decision, and then delegate as much responsibility-with-authority as possible, the level of stress is greatly reduced. Further, you must be able to accept a lot of failure and consider failure to be an opportunity for education.
Q: What’s your philosophy?
Understand that everyone is investing something. Clients are investing in the future of their business, and in your ability to give them a profitable product. The people who work in your company invest a portion of their lives, their talents and the security of their families in the hopes that they can grow and prosper.
Q: Name a product you wish you could innovate.
All of them.
Q: How would you change them?
I would make them so intuitive to use that no one would have to read the instructions.
Q: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
When you point a finger at someone, look where your thumb is pointing. Hint: It’s you.
Q: Tell us one secret.
Everybody is much better than you at something. Find out what it is and empower them.
Everything I do and everyone I meet.
Or, the traditional answer: Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering; Graduate work in Engineering Materials Science and MBA-Marketing.